Sunday, April 11, 2021

Fly On the Wall | Why Pawar, Nitish missing in Action

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Why Pawar, Nitish missing in Action
Sharad Pawar had declared with a big fanfare to lend NCP’s support to the Trinamool Congress headed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The Maratha strongman had also declared that he would campaign for the TMC candidates in West Bengal. The Congress was peeved at Pawar’s decision to support Mamata as NCP is sharing power in Maharashtra. The NCP supremo is also desirous to play a more active role in the UPA at the national level too. Realizing the sensitivities involved, NCP explained that Mamata Banerjee is close to the “Saheb” and the latter will only address a couple of rallies as a symbol of support. But Pawar could not make it in March as he was busy in resolving the crisis that erupted after Wazegate culminating in the resignation of Home Minister Anil Deshmukh. Later, Pawar developed severe abdomen pain leading to his admission at a private hospital. He was advised complete rest before he could be operated upon as his parameters were not fit to be operated upon. He cannot campaign anymore and there is no prospect of his being in action in West Bengal in near future either.

Nitish, Tejashwi keep away too
Sharad Pawar is not alone missing in action. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav are also keeping completely away in this round of Assembly polls. Though the Janata Dal (United) is contesting the West Bengal polls dumping its alliance partner BJP, Kumar has chosen to keep away and not campaign. On the other hand, the RJD is supporting the TMC despite being a partner of Congress in Bihar. But Tejashwi is also looking the other way and has not for campaigning. The JD (U) doesn’t explain why it has left its candidates in the lurch in West Bengal. However, a close confidante of Nitish Kumar said he is avoiding traveling West Bengal to keep the BJP and Mamta Banerjee in good humour. Mamata has a fractured leg and Nitish Kumar doesn’t want to rub salt on her wounds in the given situation. After all, Nitish Kumar has also been nursing national ambitions like Sharad Pawar. The Congress is also confused as it is hand-in-glove with the Left in West Bengal while fighting with the CPM in Kerala. Secondly, Rahul Gandhi has not rolled out his program to campaign in West Bengal so far either.

Priyanka goes missing too!!
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has gone into self quarantine after her husband Robert Vadra tested positive of Covid almost a week ago. The jolt came when she was drawing huge crowds during her rallies in Kerala. According to Congress insiders, she was able to connect better with the voters due to her style of campaigning causing some anxiety in some party quarters. Though Priyanka has now been tested negative, she continues to stay home. Whatever may be the reasons; her absence is a setback to the party as most of the party’s 30 star campaigners were missing in action including Capt Amrinder Singh, Navjot Singh Sidhu to name a few. Even Rahul Gandhi has been missing in action in West Bengal, at least until writing this column. Perhaps, it’s a season of leaders missing in action.

Missing frontline workers for Jab
The Prime Minister’s Task Force on Vaccination is burning midnight oil as Health and Frontline Workers (HFW) are missing in getting themselves vaccinated. Of the 3 crores HFWs only 65% came forward for the first vaccine dose during the past 90 days while 50% came for the second dose. The government is worried about these missing Covid warriors and vaccine hesitancy has clearly among them. It is worrisome as they are directly dealing with the deadly disease. The government toyed with the idea of imposing certain restrictions on those refusing to take the jab as suggested by experts and Indian Medical Association too. But these are tough times and the government cannot risk taking disciplinary action against them for refusing to take the jab. Dr Randeep Guleria, Director AIIMS and member of the PM’s Task Force, has been on record to say that this hesitancy may be because they want to wait and read more. He did not elaborate but many are worried as the government is not sharing the Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) data. Though the government told Parliament that 89 adverse events took place and none of them was due to vaccination. But it has not shared the causes behind such deaths so far except in 13 cases.

Monday, April 5, 2021

PM outlines 5-fold plan to fight Covid surge

  • Central Teams for Maharashtra, Punjab & Chhattisgarh
  • PM extremely concerned about Maharashtra
  • Penal action against defaulters, tough steps
by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group
New Delhi, April 4

The PM today suggested a 5-fold strategy to contain the alarming rise in Covid cases in the country.

Two presentations were made before the Prime Minister on Covid and Vaccination at the high-level meeting as India jumped to number one slot in the world in Coronavirus cases witnessing a severe second wave. The PM advocated a five-fold strategy of Testing, Tracing, Treatment, Covid-appropriate behaviour (CPB) and Vaccination. The PM was particularly upset as 10 states contributed to more than 91% of cases and deaths due to COVID. Maharashtra contributed 57% of total cases and 47% deaths in the country in the last 14 days and Punjab and Chhattisgarh witnessed high numbers of cases. The Central teams will be sent to these three states.

The PM summoned the meeting immediately after Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba held discussions yesterday with the Chief Secretaries of the states.The PM’s meeting was attended by Principal Secretary P K Mishra, various secretaries to departments, NITI Aayog members and others.

The Cabinet Secretary briefed the Prime Minister about the outcome of his meeting with the Chief Secretaries of the states yesterday.

Short of lockdowns, the Centre wants states to impose penalties on defaulters in a big way in public places, restricting travel through public transport, setting up containment zones and restricting movements in markets, fair, melas, social and religious congregations that could become super spreader events. The Centre is upset that states are not vaccinating enough as total vaccination crossed 7.60 crores in 78 days averaging 9.80 lakhs vaccines a day. The PM highlighted the need to ensure effective implementation of containment measures, besides the involvement of community volunteers in active case search and management of containment zones. A special campaign for Covid appropriate behaviour with emphasis on 100% mask usage, personal hygiene and sanitation at public places /workplaces and health facilities will be organised from 6th April to 14 April 2021.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Fly On The Wall | Pawar’s huge huge dilemma

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Pawar’s huge huge dilemma
Sharad Pawar is facing a huge dilemma in his political career for sometime now. Though he is virtually running the Maharashtra government with a remote-control button, he remains a dissatisfied person. He is desperate to play a major role in the national political scene. This will be possible only when Congress is agreeable to his being leading the Opposition pack or the other like-minded Opposition parties (minus the Congress) accept him as the Leader. In addition, Pawar also wants his political legacy to be transferred to his daughter Lok Sabha MP Supriya Sule in Maharashtra. This may, however, bring him in conflict with his nephew Ajit Pawar who has been working on the ground in the state for decades. The NCP cadre in Maharashtra sees Ajit Pawar as the natural choice in the state while Supriya Sule may play a role at the national level. Secondly, Sonia Gandhi is not in a mood of quitting the post despite a considerably weakened Congress & the UPA. Rahul Gandhi is not in a mood to step aside either. Will he achieve these objectives if he joins hands with BJP ? No one is sure.

Bengal is BJP’s Turning point!
West Bengal election results on May 2 will be a turning point for the BJP in more ways than one. A BJP win will not only open the flood gates for the party's pan-India reach but consolidate Modi-Shah grip on the entire political spectrum in the years to come. It is not that the Assembly polls in Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu & Puducherry are not important in BJP’s scheme of things. But BJP’s full focus is on snatching West Bengal from the TMC while retaining Assam and playing a second fiddle to NR Congress in Puducherry. In Kerala, the BJP’s priority is to defeat the Congress and won’t mind CPM retaining its bastion. The BJP has opened its gates for the Congressmen in Kerala in a big way. Knowledgeable sources in the corridors of power here say a tacit understanding may have taken place with the Left. The Left lent a helping hand to BJP in West Bengal in lieu of it. The latest slogan in West Bengal left is, “Aage Ram, Pore Baam (Ram first, Left later).” It means to dislodge Mamata first and let the BJP win this time around. The BJP had played a similar game in Punjab in 2017 when it ensured Capt Amrinder Singh’s win to defeat the AAP. Therefore, it is all the more baffling as to why Rahul Gandhi fell into the trap of the Left parties in West Bengal and had spurned Mamata’s offer for a tie-up.


Mamata on a weak wicket
TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee may be a born fighter but many battles in the past. But in the 2021 polls, she entered the battleground on a weak wicket. There are many factors including 10-years’ of anti-incumbency, desertions by many powerful leaders her ship, Abhishek Banerjee factor (the rise of Mamata’s nephew in the party) and success of BJP in polarizing the state voters by consolidating the Hindus on the one hand. Whether the Muslim voters have been divided or not will be known on May 2. But one should not forget the Owaisi factor that cost the RJD-Congress dearly in Bihar. Last but not the least, the PM’s visit to the historic temple of the Mathuas in Bangladesh has given BJP a big edge. Mathuas play a decisive role over 40-45 seats. And one should not forget the role played by the central agencies like the CBI, ED, NIA, NCB in every election. Is the tide turning? Wait until May 2.


BJP aims big after Bengal
A BJP win in West Bengal may give the party a clear majority in the Rajya Sabha by 2022 thereby giving PM Modi an opportunity to implement his ambitious “One Nation One Poll” plans. The BJP has 95 MPs in Rajya Sabha and a workable majority in the House of 245. Many regional parties like the BJD, YSR Congress, TDP and DMK have virtually no role to play in the given situation. The Assembly polls in 5 states are equally important for the entire Opposition and the Congress in particular. A TMC win may lead to the emergence of the United Front against the BJP. The role of the Congress Party will depend on its performance in Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. It is precisely because of this very reason that many prominent leaders like Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar and others are patiently waiting in the wings.

Boris Johnson’s Pune, Mumbai trip in jeopardy

British PM is to visit two cities April end 

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat 
New Delhi, April 2

Maharashtra's alarming Covid-19 situation and high positivist rate of more than 14% has put British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's visit to Pune & Mumbai in jeopardy.

Johnson is slated to visit New Delhi sometime on April 26-27 and as part of his itinerary was contemplating visiting Pune, Mumbai etc.

Johnson is eager to visit Pune which is the world's largest vaccine manufacture facility, Serum Institute of India (SII). SII has been producing Oxford Astrazeneca's vaccine Covishield, which has been exported to many countries from there. British officials are struggling to take a call on Pune visit and in touch with Indian counterparts.

This is the second time the British Prime Minister is contemplating visiting India. He was to be country's Chief Guest during the Republic Day celebrations on January 26. But Britain was hit hard by another Covid wave and lockdown was declared forcing cancellation of his trip.

The April trip was finalised when the situation started improving in the UK and it looked as if the second wave won't hit India. However, Maharashtra is among the worst hit among eight states. As if this was enough, Pune and Mumbai top the list of districts in highest reported cases. A night Curfew has been imposed in Pune from today and the situation continues to be alarming in Mumbai too.

The cases have risen at a rapid speed in Maharashtra from 15000 or so on March 15 and have trebled in less in 17 days. Though the state tops the country in terms of vaccination.

UK as the chair of the G7 grouping has invited India for the meeting of the grouping in June. Indian PM Modi will be traveling to the country for the summit, which could see its first in-person quad meeting as well. Both sides are also working on a trade deal.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Fly on the Wall | Modi drawing Leaf out of Nehru

by Harish Gupta, National Editor, Lokmat Group

Modi drawing Leaf out of Nehru
There is no dearth of cheerleaders who have termed the Chinese withdrawal from the finger areas in the Galwan Valley as “historic” win for PM Modi. No doubt, with visuals of Chinese withdrawal created a fervor and a welcome development. But it was certainly not the first time when the Chinese had retreated from the Galwan Valley. They had done it first time on July 7, 1962 by unilaterally withdrawing from the same Galwan Valley bringing huge jubilation in the country and relief to the then PM Nehru. In fact, India had not retreated an inch from the Galwan Valley then. But the Chinese retreat was a trap as they returned 96 days later on October 20, 1962 to attack India. India suffered a humiliating defeat then. The cheerleaders may have forgotten the lesson in history but not Modi. He is aware of the pitfalls ahead and it is because of this very reasons that neither Modi nor NSA Ajit Doval have spoken a word about it. Even Defense Minister Rajnath Singh gave no details when he read out a statement in Parliament on February 11. The MEA has also been coy about the agreement. Reason: If the Chinese have retreated from the Pangong Tso, India has also retreated from the Rachin La and Rezang La hills in the Kailash range. India is now mounting pressure on the Chinese to pull back from the Hot Spring, Gogra in the Depsang Plains. Modi is waiting with a bated breath of what the Chinese will do in the days, months or even the years to come. Modi has been deeply hurt. After all, it was he who invited Xi Jingping in 2014 to Gujrat Riverfront and both were spotted swinging together. But April 2020 intrusion changed the course. He has drawn a leaf out of the archives not to allow the Chinese to take him for a rise.

Business & Border inter-linked
Modi has made two major changes while dealing with China and Pakistan; one is that Business bonhomie and Border confrontation can’t go together and two; External Affairs Ministry won’t be allowed to dominate decisions of the Defense forces on the ground. Modi snapped all ties with Pakistan after his failed unscheduled Pakistan visit in December 2015. The same is being done with China after the April 2020 border row when India was in the midst of Covid crisis. The trade ties can’t be snapped overnight. But they have been put in the slow lane, banned Chinese apps, no Chinese entry in 5G technology and no free flow of FDI either. Secondly, the forces have been given a free hand to deal with the situation on the ground without overriding powers of the MEA. The MEA will be in the loop certainly.

How Modi pipped Rahul
Rahul Gandhi may have inadvertently given pleasure to the “Modi Bhakts” when he said in Puducherry the other day that there should be a ministry of Fisheries in Delhi. It was a faux pas as Modi had created such a ministry in June 2019 itself and Giriraj Singh continues to be the first Minister for Fisheries. But what was drowned in the butt of jokes was that Rahul Gandhi wanted fishermen to be treated as farmers. He wanted that fishermen be treated as ‘farmers of the sea’ like the farmers of the land. But his message was lost and Modi picked up the thread sitting in Delhi. He has a sharp nose, worked quietly and a decision was taken overnight. Next day Union Home Minister Amit Shah announced that Fishermen in 9 states and 4 Union Territories will also be treated as farmers. Shah did not stop at this. He went on to announce that millions of fishermen will be entitled to the benefits under the PM-Kisan and get Rs 6000 per year. Obviously, it will directly benefit the fishermen in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry – all poll bound states. According to the Fishery Survey of India, 2003, the population of fishermen in India was 1.44 crores.

Importance of being Nana Patole
Rahul Gandhi may have been busy launching a blistering attack on Modi on three farm laws. But what a pity! The AICC doesn’t have a Chief of Kisan Congress for one year after Patole quit. Insiders say the post was kept vacant by Rahul Gandhi for his bĂȘte noir as Patole as PCC Chief. Perhaps, he may do backseat driving in the Kisan Congress too.